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Economic crimes expert: Don't touch public records law

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By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

As an assistant attorney general, Les Garringer investigated businesses as head of the economic crimes unit of the Florida Attorney General's Office from 1989 until 2001. Now in private practice in Tallahassee, his biggest concern is that Florida lawmakers may seek to change state public records laws to make more information inaccessible, all in the name of personal privacy and national security. Here is a brief excerpt from a recent interview:

Q: What's got you so hot and bothered about public disclosure?

Garringer: Florida has the strongest public records law in the country. But I think the Sept. 11 events, the concern that terrorists can get proper indentity so easily, and even the interest in exempting autopsy records because of Dale Earnhardt's death have lawmakers considering ways to reduce public access to information.

Q: Is that such a bad thing?

Garringer: You have to be careful. You want to protect individuals from identity theft. But it's not in the interest of everyone to close public records.

Q: What problems come to mind?

Garringer: Well, what happens if a business that hoses consumers hides behind some new law that says such information is privileged? And what happens if there is no way for the public to see if the government is doing its job of protecting citizens?

Q: Is that really likely?

Garringer: I think there's a trend. Once you create secrets, there's no way to know.

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